As Hamilton County Commissioner Curtis Adams awaits financial documents he requested from the county’s Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority, other commissioners have started to question how the authority spends its money.
An anonymous letter sent to several county commissioners last week questioned why the authority is spending increased sums this year on unspecified “professional services” — nearly $26,000 — and accounting services — nearly $20,000.
The letter also questioned the WWTA personnel costs, which have risen from about $557,000 in fiscal 2003 to a budgeted $1,797,700 in fiscal 2009.
“I trust that our elected representatives will look into these areas on behalf of the public,” the letter states.
Mr. Adams, who said he does not know who sent the letter, believes the authority should address the questions. He also indicated receiving several phone calls from the public about the authority.
The questions in the letter may have arisen because of the trouble the county’s had in obtaining documents that detail attorney John Anderson’s legal fees for authority business and the reasons for the fees, Mr. Adams said.
“They rouse suspicion when they don’t (provide the documents),” he said.
In a written response to commissioners, authority board Chairman Henry Hoss said the authority doesn’t usually respond to anonymous letters. Still, he answered the questions in the letter to show the authority is open to answer “all reasonable questions.”
He explained that the “other professional services” were public relations provided by Derryberry Public Relations. He said the accounting fees went to the same accounting firms that serve as auditors for the county. Mr. Hoss’s own company, Barto, Hoss & Co., received payment for administrative services, he wrote.
On the personnel question, Mr. Hoss said the letter writer has “a misunderstanding of our personnel costs.” The increase, Mr. Hoss wrote, comes from the growth of management positions meant to improve safety.
Mr. Hoss also explained the increase in the authority’s legal costs.
“During the year, as events occur, our attorney is assigned issues to provide services to the staff and/or the board,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, should new issues arise during the year the cost will cause the WWTA to exceed our budget.”
Mr. Adams requested Mr. Anderson’s legal bills after an East Ridge citizens group asked for them. The group had been seeking information to see how much Mr. Anderson, who serves as attorney for the city of East Ridge and the authority, had been charging and if he was double-billing the city and the authority.
On Thursday, county commissioners briefly discussed a resolution that would force the authority to provide the documents. The authority provided copies of bills several weeks ago, but with reasons for the charges blacked out. Mr. Hoss said the information was redacted to protect the authority’s attorney-client privilege.
On Nov. 5, the commission delayed a vote on the resolution to give the authority two more weeks to provide them. That same day, the authority’s board voted that Mr. Hoss meet with the commissioners one-on-one to answer their questions about the legal bills.
On Thursday, County Attorney Rheubin Taylor said he had heard nothing from the authority regarding the bills.
County Commissioner Bill Hullander said the authority still has another week to provide the documents. If the commission passes the resolution Wednesday, the authority must provide them or the county will take them to court.
“I don’t know whether we’ll be able to get it without going to court,” Mr. Adams said.